Wednesday, July 15, 2015

All the things I'm not

“I have served two large churches, because I’m not talented enough to serve a small church.”

Another, rather more detailed and disparaging description: I’m a church musician who does not play the organ; a worship leader who does not play the piano or guitar; a pastor without a seminary degree; a choir director whose performance degree is in trombone; a conductor mostly trained on the job.

When I am in the mood to put a positive spin on it, I admit that my strength in music ministry has been as a steward of others’ musical gifts. I do not deny that I have a certain musical sense and vision. I have a gift for programming—whether the selection of hymns for a Sunday morning or the creation of a seasonal service or special concert—I know how to put things together. I did not know that 30 years ago; it took others to recognize and name that as a spiritual gift. Some think I am a gifted administrator; I think I just have a strong self-defense instinct.

Early on, it was a challenge to appreciate the clearly superior gifts of the musicians in my care. I felt threatened by the amazing pianist, the creative organist, the guitarist who could instantly harmonize any melody they heard. I had to get over myself . . . my insecurities and real or perceived shortcomings . . . to get to the point of celebrating the amazing gifts that others offered so faithfully and generously. Only then did I have the freedom to be a steward, and to joyfully put others before myself.

Paradoxically, only as a contented steward could I fully enter into those activities and undertakings that gave me greatest pleasure and most fully used my gifts.
* I finally gained the courage to undertake the preparation and conducting of oratorios. With fond memories of Messiah, Creation, and Saint Paul, I can—if I have to!—go to my choral grave content.
* A long string of internships blossomed into what was the highlight of my last few years in full-time ministry. It is a thrill for me to see former interns thriving in the musical world as they encounter it.
* I still get great pleasure from helping others with questions of hymnody and related liturgical questions.

It is good to know my limitations. It is better not to feel stuck with them.

Thirty years ago this month, I became a pastoral musician. I’m still trying to sort out all that means, and I’m still eager to fulfill that vocation, in whatever form it takes.

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